Gary Andersen's debut at Oregon State resulted in just two wins last season, but everyone was aware of the rebuilding project he was taking on. Year 2 should show more signs of progress, but how much remains to be seen with just 10 starters returning and new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
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Previewing Oregon State’s Offense in 2016
Oregon State hopes to make a vast improvement in 2016 after ranking 115th nationally in scoring offense with only 19.0 points per game. The first step would be better quarterback play after a tumultuous carousel last season saw Seth Collins, Nick Mitchell and Marcus McMaryion all make at least one start and combine to rank 116th nationally in passing offense (159.1 ypg) and 121st in quarterback rating (96.9). Now, Utah State transfer Darell Garretson has officially joined the fold after tallying 2,586 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 games over two seasons at his former school.
Collins, meanwhile, has moved to a multi-dimensional “slash” role following a bizarre offseason saga in which he announced his decision to transfer before opting to return to the Beavers in the middle of spring practice. Collins’ explosive athleticism — which was on display when he lined up at receiver, running back and quarterback in the 2015 finale against Oregon — adds another weapon to an intriguing group of skill players that includes 6'2", 235-pound running back Ryan Nall, receivers Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin and speedy running back/receiver Paul Lucas.
Veteran Sean Harlow will anchor an offensive line that lost standouts Isaac Seumalo and Josh Mitchell but returns several pieces with starting experience.
Previewing Oregon State’s Defense in 2016
Oregon State also struggled mightily on this side of the ball in 2015, ranking 114th nationally in scoring defense while transitioning to a 3-4 base system. This season, the Beavers have a new coordinator in Kevin Clune after Kalani Sitake left Corvallis to take the head coaching job at BYU. And there are plenty of spots up for grabs, after the Beavers lost their biggest contributor at each level in defensive lineman Kyle Peko (exhausted eligibility), linebacker Rommel Mageo (transferred to Ole Miss) and safety Justin Strong (transferred to Montana).
Junior college transfer Phillip Napoleon is a potential immediate impact player at defensive end. The secondary is full of players who redshirted last season, as cornerbacks Jay Irvine, Xavier Crawford and Shawn Wilson and safeties Jalen Moore and Omar Hicks-Onu will challenge returning contributors Treston Decoud, Dwayne Williams, Kendall Hill, Brandon Arnold and Devin Chappell for playing time.
The two gems of OSU’s 2016 recruiting class — safety Shurod Thompson and cornerback Christian Wallace — are in the back end, and the Beavers also stockpiled players at the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker spot in hopes of creating more pressure on the quarterback in 2016. Early enrollee Shemar Smith already made an impression at that spot during spring practice.
Related: Athlon's 2016 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing Oregon State’s Specialists in 2016
The Beavers return the key contributors on special teams. Garrett Owens made 11-of-15 field goals with a long of 50 yards last season, while Nick Porebski averaged 41.1 yards per punt with a long of 66 yards. Bolden, an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection as an all-purpose player a season ago, is dynamic on returns — as evidenced by his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against Oregon.
The Beavers should take positive steps in Year 2 of Gary Andersen’s massive rebuild. But how will that progress show up in the win-loss column while navigating the difficult Pac-12, where the Beavers have lost 21 of their last 23 contests? Oregon State’s schedule includes road dates with defending champion Stanford, upstart Washington and always-talented UCLA to go along with non-conference contests at Minnesota and against Boise State. Even if the Beavers improve drastically on both sides of the ball, they will likely still need a few more years before consistently competing in the Pac-12.